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Word of the Week: ‘hurricane’

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We take a closer look at the words and phrases that are trending online and in the media. This week: ‘hurricane’.

‘Hurricane Lorenzo’ is fast approaching the UK and in typical English fashion, the weather is all the public can talk about. Set to be one of the strongest ever tropical storms to hit Europe, we want to know what ‘hurricane’ means, where it comes from, and who the hell Lorenzo is.

As the question ‘when is the hurricane coming to England’ sees a boost in Google searches, we dig into the word at the heart of it all.

What is the definition of a ‘hurricane’?

Let’s start with the facts. According to the National Ocean Service, a ‘hurricane’ officially occurs “when a storm’s maximum sustained winds reach 74mph” or more.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines the noun as “a violent wind that has a circular movement, especially in the West Atlantic Ocean”. 

Other definitions include the military-specific “a single-seat British fighter plane of World War Two”, which was known for its impressive speeds.

The word is of course also used figuratively to denote anyone or anything that is powerful and causes turmoil. And I’m sure we can all think of one tiny thing causing more chaos in Britain than Lorenzo right now…

Etymology of the word ‘hurricane’

For once, our Word of the Week does not have direct Latin roots. ‘Hurricane’ actually originates from the Taino – the Arawak community indigenous to the Caribbean. The word was apparently used to describe the “God of the storm” or “God of Evil”, who was thought to control the extreme weather. 

Using the word ‘huracan’ in conversations with early Spanish settlers, the word soon made its way into the Spanish language, and by the end of the 16th century, it had turned up in blighty.

The term mutated and underwent nearly 40 different spellings, a result of English-Spanish-Portuguese hybrids, one of which being ‘harrycain’ – an unstoppable force known well to both England and Spurs fans.

And as for the names used to identify hurricanes, the World Meteorological Organisation has six they use in rotation. As we await the arrival of Lorenzo, there’s no doubt Tottenham Hotspur fans will be desperately hoping for the return of ‘Harrycain’ before the next Spurs Bayern Munich game.

Roisin McCormack